November 5, 2009 at 8:12 a.m.

CLHS custodian covers a lot of ground

CLHS custodian covers a lot of ground
CLHS custodian covers a lot of ground

After reporting to the affectionately-called "war room," assistant custodian Keith Schefers pauses only briefly to jot down notes about the day's schedule at Chisago Lakes High School.

Keeping an eye on the clock, Schefers quickly moves out the door and is on his way, completing rounds that take him throughout the building more times than anyone can count for the next eight-plus hours.

Schefers starts his shift by writing down which activities will be taking place in the building that afternoon and evening, and where. Today, four Community Education classes are scheduled for classrooms, the dance team is practicing, Hoops Club has a basketball practice and there's a varsity football playoff game in the stadium.

"There's special things going all the time," Schefers said, after he and fellow custodian Joe Paul conferred about what was happening that day. They meet in the Building Services Room, where equipment and cleaning supplies are stored, and they can sit down for a short break in the middle of a hectic day.

Moving quickly to the cafeteria so he can get tables put up before the end of the day, Schefers said he keeps the list of scheduled activities with him throughout the night, so he can make sure the school is ready for those events.

The routines of the day are second-nature to Schefers, who started at the school "with the class of 1996," as he puts it.

Schefers starts the day working with Paul, and the two are joined around 4 p.m. by a third custodian. The late shift custodians will arrive around 9:30 p.m. to help them finish off their day.

From the cafeteria, he's off to grab two large, wheeled barrels for collecting garbage from 27 rooms in the northern portion of the building.

He positions himself outside a room in the math hallway, cautioning that no one wants to be standing in the middle of the hallway when the bell rings.

"They come out in herds," Schefers jokes.

After the collective waves of students move out of rooms and down the hall, Schefers deftly moves in and out of each room, dumping contents from two containers in each room into the large barrels in seemless motion.

What happens to his routine if the two barrels fill up before he's done?

"I have it figured out, it only takes two," Schefers said, acknowledging it usually changes as the school year winds down, and everything is cleaned out and thrown away.

He pauses long enough to say hi to son, Sam, a ninth grader at CLHS, and continues on to the world language and social studies rooms.

Schefers talks to Mr. Woods, who asks about repairing a metal stool in his classroom.

"I'll get to it later, or he'll remind me tomorrow. I don't write things down," Schefers said.

Teacher and coach Brian Deede finds Schefers, asking him to unlock an equipment storage room in the gym. The task takes mere minutes, as Schefers automatically grabs the correct key from the chain of about 30 keys hanging at his waist and opens the door.

Every few minutes, a page from the office sounds, and Schefers pauses to listen. None are asking for him, but as he heads to dump the garbage, his cell phone buzzes. A snake brought into school by one of the students has bled on the floor in the senior locker area.

"Now that's a new one, I haven't heard that before," Schefers said.

He double-checks with office staff on the location of the spill, and moves out to clean it up. Along the way, he checks to make sure one of the pool entrance doors is open for swimming activities later, and one of the main entrance doors is open.

Once done with clean-up duty, he straps on a Ghostbusters-looking contraption, set to visit each of the 27 classrooms and staff rooms once again. This time, he weaves up and down the rows vacuuming.

He has to skip vacuuming the lecture hall, because a driver's ed class is using the space, and a math room, where a student is testing. He'll come back to those later.

The job goes quickly ­- by 4 p.m., the vacuum is put away and it's on to the next task. Schefers doesn't know how to slow down, which makes taking his photograph on the job rather tricky, and challenges this reporter's skills of walking and writing at the same time.

He is also very dedicated to his work, showing up early and typically not punching out until after his 10:30 p.m. shift ends.

"I'm here - always," Schefers said. "I only took one day off last year and that was graduation day, to go to a wedding."

The vacuum is traded for a bottle of cleaner and a rag, and each room and hallway is visited for the final time this shift. Pencil marks are cleaned off desks and hallway walls.

Schefers had already taken note of which halls and desks need cleaning, during his previous two rounds.

He's also learned which classes have chronic doodlers who seem fascinated with practicing their art skills on the desks.

Schefers takes pride in his work, and knows the way the building looks is noticed.

"I have received compliments on how clean the building is, even from high school principals visiting from other schools," Schefers said. "It makes us feel good, but we work hard at what we do."

It's important to keep up with the marks and scuffs, Schefers said.

"I tell all the guys to especially watch marks in the hallways, because people are coming in for games and classes, and we don't want it to look dungy."

He checks in with custodian Vern Stevens, letting him know what activities are going on that day.

While not all the desks are cleaned daily, all surfaces are disinfected every Wednesday during a thorough cleaning.

"We wipe down everything - desks, walls, handles, switches," Schefers said. "The teachers now all have the disinfectant wipes, so they'll have students wipe down desks too."

As he completes his work in the classrooms, Schefers turns off lights, knowing the third shift won't be in those rooms for several hours.

Schefers jokes around and talks with staff and students he encounters during his shift, knowing it helps build relationships.

He said if they are comfortable, then they will know they can come to him with any problems in the building. Schefers also knows that students will then have more respect for the building.

Around 5 p.m., the cleaning supplies are dropped off and it's time for a short break to sit and rest.

Next, Schefers heads to the laundry room, where he starts a load of football jerseys. Today, there's not much laundry waiting to be cleaned, but it all depends on the time of year.

"Sometimes, we have four barrels sitting in here, so you stop by and do laundry every chance you get," Schefers said.

Collecting garbage from cans in the hallways and locker commons is next on the list. Once this is done, Schefers heads back to the laundry room, transfers the load and starts a new one, then grabs a mop head to start sweeping.

He notices that the driver's education class is finished in the lecture hall, so he makes a mental note to vacuum the room next.

As he sweeps the commons, Schefers asks a group of boys who are milling about, what they are doing in the building. It's 6 p.m., so most after-school activities are wrapped up. The kids say they are waiting for the football game to start, but Schefers asks them to wait outside.

He stops to lower the basketball hoops in both gyms, knowing youth practices will be starting soon. Schefers takes note that varsity football players from both teams are moving in and out of the locker rooms, getting ready for the game.

Schefers now makes sure all doors are locked, except those that need to be used for basketball practice. Football coaches have their own keys to get players in after the game, Schefers said.

As the sweeping is done, Schefers stops to get the broken stool in Mr. Woods room, and replaces it with another one from a storage area in the back of the lecture hall.

Paul has a few extra jobs to finish this evening, so he's asked Schefers to help sweep his areas of the school. It's no big deal for Schefers, who's happy to help out.

"We really are a family," he said. "Saying no or that's not my job aren't words that are spoken here. I always tell my fellow custodians, don't be afraid to ask for help."

At 7 p.m., it's time for a dinner break. Schefers has barely started his break, when he's called to open up the band room for a marching band member to retrieve his drum.

Now that the football game has started, Schefers is mindful of the time. The clean-up crew needs to be ready to head outside as soon as the game is over. He'll keep in touch with staff working the game to know when it's over.

At 8:30, basketball practices are winding down, and Schefers knows parents are arriving to pick up their kids. He doesn't want to leave the front door unlocked, but wonders if some of the parents will be upset they can't get in the building.

"I'd rather know the front door is secure with those kids in the building," Schefers said.

Assistant Principal Sara Johnson stops by, letting Schefers know it's halftime, and the Wildcats are winning. Although he's happy for the team, Schefers knows his job will still be the same afterward.

"One of the sayings we have is, win or lose, we still have to clean up," Schefers joked.

At 9:25 p.m., the call comes to get ready to go outside. The custodians grab brooms and a large-tired metal wagon used to haul garbage, and head out.

As a few players have their pictures taken with parents and siblings play in the end zone, they get to work. Now joined by the third shift crew, the custodians fan out along the bleachers, some sweeping their way to the top rows, others collecting bigger garbage and emptying cans.

By 10:30 p.m., the bleachers are clean. A forgotten football and letter jacket are taken inside, as Schefers unlocks the giant electrical box to turn out the lights on another season.

As busy as the fall has been, Schefers knows winter sports are starting, and it will be even busier.

"There's nothing outside, so there's a lot of bleacher teardowns and set ups," he said.

The shift ends after walking for miles through the halls of CLHS. Has Schefers ever worn a pedometer to figure out how many miles he's gone?

"A lot of people ask me that, but I think I'm scared to find out," Schefers jokes.

Coming next month in the Chisago Lakes School Profiles series: A day in the life of a Lakeside Elementary cook manager.


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